We've detected that you're using an ad content blocking browser plug-in or feature. Ads provide a critical source of revenue to the continued operation of Silicon Investor.  We ask that you disable ad blocking while on Silicon Investor in the best interests of our community.  If you are not using an ad blocker but are still receiving this message, make sure your browser's tracking protection is set to the 'standard' level.
Non-Tech : CRAiLAR Technologies Inc. (OTCBB: CRLRF TSX: CL)

 Public ReplyPrvt ReplyMark as Last ReadFilePrevious 10Next 10PreviousNext  
From: caly10/25/2011 9:48:41 PM
   of 88

Tech company spins promising flax yarn

Levi Strauss and Hansebrands have signed deals with B.C. company whose enzyme process turns flax or hemp into a fibre similar to cotton

By Nelson Bennett

It’s the crude oil of the textile industry.

While it’s an almost ideal natural material for making clothing, cotton is costly to produce, grows only in tropical or subtropical climates and has a large environmental footprint due to the heavy irrigation and use of herbicides and pesticides needed to grow it.

“It’s one of the most destructive crops that we grow,” said Ken Barker, CEO of Naturally Advanced Technologies (TSX-V:NAT), which has developed an alternative to cotton called Crailar.

“The same mantra that we used to hear from the clean-tech industry back in 2008 – which was ‘Reduce my carbon footprint’ – now what we’re hearing is, ‘Reduce my cotton footprint.’”

Crailar is made from flax or hemp using an enzyme process developed by the National Research Council of Canada (NRCC) and licensed exclusively to Barker’s company.

The enzyme breaks down the lignin – the tough fibre in plants like flax, hemp and jute – leaving behind a soft material Barker claims is indistinguishable from cotton.

It is a game-changer, he said, because unlike cotton, flax and hemp can grow virtually anywhere in the world and don’t require intensive irrigation or pesticide use.

“This is the first natural fibre development in the world since cotton.”

Barker added that, aside from being easier to grow, flax is 10% to 15% cheaper to produce than cotton and shrinks less, absorbs dye better and wicks moisture.

Kelly Markle, general manager for Simplex Textiles in Toronto, said Canadian textilers would welcome any alternative to cotton that could be grown in Canada. Her company – which makes pillows, comforters and mattress pads – imports cotton from Pakistan, China and the U.S.

Because of flooding in Pakistan last year, cotton prices have more than doubled.

“If the cotton crop goes down, the cotton prices go through the roof,” she said. “If they can do it and process it in Canada, that would be brilliant, because Canada doesn’t grow cotton.”

NAT had its start in Vancouver as Hemptown Clothing. Jason Finnis and his wife, Larisa Harrison, started the company in 1998 while still in university.

They sold clothing made from various eco-friendly materials. It was the company’s hemp clothing – and hemp’s association with the marijuana plant – that made it tough for the company to gain credibility.

“I was certainly not taken seriously,” said Finnis, who added that it’s gratifying to see the company now clinching deals with clothing giants like Hanesbrands Inc. and Levi Strauss & Co.

Finnis, who is now NAT’s chief innovation officer, worked closely with the NRCC while it was developing an enzyme process – similar to one used in the pulp and paper industry – to break down plant fibre lignin.

Barker, the former head of apparel for Adidas North America, joined the company in 2006 as CEO. He closed Hemptown Clothing in 2009 to focus the company’s efforts on marketing Crailar and raising investment.

NAT was listed on the TSX Venture exchange in 2009, and in July the company raised $13 million through public offering.

NAT employs 12 people, and recently moved its headquarters to Victoria from Vancouver.

In addition to Hanesbrands and Levi Strauss & Co., the company has signed a supply agreement with Georgia Pacific, which makes napkins, paper towels and bathroom tissue.

Hanesbrands will be using a blend of Crailar and cotton, and plans to start selling athletic socks using the material in 2012.

NAT is installing a processing plant in Kingstree, South Carolina, capable of producing 650,000 pounds of Crailar per week.

“Flax is a winter crop in South Carolina, in very close proximity to all the spinning facilities that feed Hanesbrands and the rest of our partners, so strategically it makes a lot of sense to do it down there,” Barker said. “All that facility needs to do is get to 50% capacity and we go cash-flow positive. Our projection for next year is that our revenue would be somewhere in the $18 million range.”

In addition to its plant in South Carolina, NAT plans to build a processing facility in either Manitoba or Saskatchewan, where 1.5 million pounds of flax is grown annually for the oilseed industry. The straw is either burned or ploughed back into the ground, which means NAT will be using a resource that is currently going to waste.

The company’s current manufacturing capacity is between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds per week.

It plans to ramp that up to 650,000 pounds per week next year and 3.5 million pounds per week within three years.

Over the next three years, NAT plans to build two plants per year, each employing about 40 people. Initially, the company will focus on making Crailar fibre from flax. Hemp will be used to make clothing that requires durability (uniforms, protective-wear, and denim).

It’s illegal to grow hemp in the U.S., but it’s grown in small amounts in Western Canada.

Barker believes that, in addition to Crailar textiles from hemp, there’s also a market for hemp oil, which can be used as a bio-fuel.

“It needs an industry like this to get it to any kind of scale.” •
Report TOU ViolationShare This Post
 Public ReplyPrvt ReplyMark as Last ReadFilePrevious 10Next 10PreviousNext